Below are real-life examples of how organisations have found Census data invaluable in health reserach and the planning of health services.

NHS Lothian

Census supports NHS planning

Planning the future provision of services in the NHS demands rigorous attention to detail and a close understanding of the population profiles of different areas.

Resources have to be allocated wisely to cover existing and future need while also avoiding waste.

Christine Murray NHS Lothian


"The projections from census data enabled decisions to be taken on the number of GP practices or pharmacies required."

Because the census provides 100 per cent coverage and reporting for even small geographical areas, the data helps inform the needs of respective areas, allowing for reliable planning and resource delivery.

Christine Murray, Performance Manager with NHS Lothian, says that projections from census data enabled decisions to be taken on the number of GP practices or pharmacies required.

She explained: “The basic population numbers are helpful, but we also look at breakdowns of ages, because different groups of people require different services.

“Breaking these numbers down by area is also helpful, as it can provide a population profile according to council areas or Community Health Partnership (CHP).

“Using census data also helps us compare with other areas which have similar population numbers and to gain an indication of the type and level of services needed.

“Without census information, the provision of service would be less forward looking and much more reactive.”

Carers Trust Scotland

Supporting carers and raising awareness throughout Scotland

With unpaid carers saving the Scottish economy more than £10.3 billion a year, it is important that organisations such as Carers Trust can draw on reliable evidence when preparing to provide support such as advice about benefits, counselling and training.

A prime source for this reliable evidence is the Census which asks people whether they provide help and support to family, friends, neighbours or others because of health or problems with old age.

The 2011 Census showed that around one in eight people were unpaid carers. Maxine Finlay, Communications and PR Manager at Carers Trust, uses census information to publicise the growing number of unpaid carers in the country.

She said “Scotland’s population is ageing and improvements in health care means that the number of unpaid carers is likely to rise significantly in the next few years. Unpaid carers save the economy an amount of money equivalent to the cost of the NHS in Scotland, but they often miss out on jobs, pensions and leisure time, which is why it is so important that there are services that can support them.”

As the Census information and statistics are official, they are more likely to be acknowledged by the funding sources that the organisation appeals to.

Carers Trust’s Fundraising Manager, Louise Dragsnes, frequently uses the information in applications to help demonstrate the need for continuing support for the organisation and network of Carers’ Centres. The centres provide unpaid carers with advice on benefits and money, emotional support, signposting to other organisations and agencies, training, and a place to meet other carers and have a break from caring.

She commented: “The Census information on unpaid carers is strong evidence to support funding applications and shows how our organisation and the network of Carers’ Centres need to grow and develop to support the ever increasing number of unpaid carers across Scotland.”

Carers Trust Scotland provides support for people caring for family members or friends who, due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction, cannot cope without their support.

Glasgow University

Deprivation analysis

The MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow have been updating Carstairs deprivation scores for Scotland using data from the 2011 Census.

Carstairs deprivation scores were originally created in 1981 using four Census variables (male unemployment, no car ownership, overcrowding and low social class). As near as possible the same four variables have been used to update Carstairs scores at each successive Census, despite changes to the definition of some variables over time. This work provides the first update to scores since 2001.

It is important that Carstairs deprivation scores are updated over time whenever new Census data becomes available. The scores are a widely used measure of material deprivation and are often used to examine area-based health inequalities.

The Scottish Health and Ethnicity Linkage Study (SHELS)

Differences in health care utilisation, health status and mortality are often large when examined by ethnic group although limited data is available in the UK, including Scotland.  Data by ethnicity is needed to measure these health inequalities. Routine health data currently contains limited information on a patient’s ethnicity. However the Scottish census contains self-assigned ethnicity for the whole population and also important socio-economic information.  By linking an extract of 2001 census records of individuals to hospital discharge, mortality and other health databases, we examined the relationship between ethnicity and a series of diseases and other outcomes for the population of Scotland.

Approvals, permissions and governance procedures are required to ensure confidentiality is maintained and risk of disclosure is minimised.

SHELS has analysed ethnic variations in cardiovascular diseases, cancer, breast cancer screening, mother and child health, mental health, gastrointestinal diseases and respiratory diseases on approximately 90% of the 2001 Scottish population. SHELS is currently assessing ethnic variations for all cause-mortality, all-cause hospitalisation, injuries and poisoning, infectious diseases (including HIV and hepatitis B and C) and uptake of bowel cancer screening. Future aims include linking to the 2011 Census and exploring the feasibility of opening access to the SHELS datasets for other researchers.

SHELS has been able to understand, and has published, a number of important findings so far.  A few examples are:

  • Pakistani men living in Scotland have a significantly higher risk of heart attack compared to white Scottish men.
  • Men and women from nearly all ethnic minority groups (both non-White and other White people) are less likely to develop cancer than the White Scottish population.
  • Chinese people living in Scotland, seem to have better health than White Scottish with lower risks of hospital admission or death in many health outcomes (eg heart disease, cancer, alcohol related diseases and asthma)
  • White Scottish mums are less likely to breast feed their babies than mothers from all the other populations in Scotland.

SHELS demonstrates important ethnic variations in health across Scotland, sometimes in favour of White populations and sometimes not so. Our findings highlight differences in the risk of health outcomes even when the risk is adjusted for age and indicators of socioeconomic status.

These results provide nation-wide quantitative data which are important for further research and for health services to utilise to help improve the health of the whole Scottish population.